Writing away from your instrument

12 August, 2014 in Features, Tips & Techniques

A beginner's guide to music publishing

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Struggling to come up with ideas? Sitting slaving over a hot piano isn’t necessarily the best solution, says Ken Chapple…

o there you are… you’re sitting at home with a six-pack (or maybe some freshly squeezed juice if you’re not into drinking alcohol). You pick up your guitar, or you sit down at your piano, and you say to yourself, “Okay, here we go – let’s write a song!”

If you’re anything like me, this never works. So here are some tips to help make that song happen. Tips that, perhaps counterintuitively, involve stepping away from your instrument of choice…

Let your mind wander

In order to really get in the songwriting mood, try thinking about something different. The potential of your brain when it’s free to imagine, wander and wonder is far greater than when it’s limited to your knowledge of the guitar, mandolin or whatever. Even if you’re a virtuoso.

So put down your guitar and just imagine something from your recent past. We all live stories everyday, but usually they just pass us by. Stop to think about something that’s happened in the past couple of days that made you feel something. Really think yourself back inside that situation – and then imagine the music that might be playing in the background.

If you really can’t think of anything, go somewhere. Take a stroll down the high street… go to the park. Who cares if it’s 10.30 at night, you’re an adult!

The author performing live… but sometimes putting the guitar DOWN is the key to finding inspiration

The author performing live… but sometimes putting the guitar DOWN is the key to finding inspiration

Be ready for the transmission

I don’t sit down to write a song like I’m in a boat on a lonely pond, waiting for a pike to tug on my line. I only sit down to write a song when I already have some ideas.

I use the Evernote app to continually document and tag lyrical fragments or melodic ideas that pop into my brain. Sometimes it’s embarrassing to be in the vegetable section of the grocery store singing into my iPhone… it’s one of those daily battles, but I win every time. Sometimes I can’t comprehend the notes I’m singing or the words I’m saying in those Evernotes later on, but usually the feeling is there.

This way, when I sit down in the precious time that I have to actually assemble a song, I already have kilobytes of ideas to mine from. Really, as long as you’re living you’re writing – you just need to be ready for the transmission from your life’s story into the song.

When it rains, it pours!

At the time of writing this article, I’m also in the middle of writing an album, and have the first session of four songs already recorded. I’ve been writing away from my instrument a lot of the time, using the methods described above, and in the process of writing those four songs, I had at least 10 ideas for new songs – “Well what if the character did this?” or “This would be a cool interlude part to add”.

When these kind of ideas come along, I just record the new ideas in Evernote for the next session or the next album. The fact is, the more you get in the habit of coming up with ideas, the more ideas you’ll come up with. You’ll never be stuck again!

Words: Ken Chapple


Ken C thumbnailKen Chapple is a guitarist, producer and songwriter living in Portland, Oregon. He is the primary songwriter for the bluegrass band Wayward Vessel, and is currently working on a solo record of new acoustic music. Check out Ken’s website to listen to his music, pick up tips, and follow his process during the making of his new record. You can also find him on Twitter: @ken_chapple

Ken Chapple pics by (above) Chip Russell and (left) Laura Jennings

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